Credit Suisse Data Leak and the Pakistan Connection, Explained

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Feb. 21 2022, Published 8:16 a.m. ET

A whistleblower has leaked the account details of over 18,000 Credit Suisse account holders to a German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The data dates back to as late as the 1940s and the accounts collectively held around $100 billion. What are the implications of the data leak?

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Swiss banks were historically known for their secrecy, which is something that their customers support. However, under pressure from other countries, Swiss banks gradually relaxed the norms. Starting in 2018, they officially ended their era of secrecy by beginning to share account data with other countries.

Swiss banks have been accused of aiding money laundering.

Still, most scams and exposed data from Panama Papers to Pandora Papers have mentioned people having Swiss bank accounts. While the country’s banking system has reformed over the years, the Credit Suisse data leak has revealed several skeletons in the closet.

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What names are in the Credit Suisse data leak?

According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, it received the data more than a year ago from an anonymous sender. It studied the data along with OCCRP (Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project).

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Not all of the money in these accounts is illegal. According to OCCRP, only about $8 billion of the money is suspicious. The list includes some corrupt politicians like Venezuelan bureaucrats accused of siphoning off the country’s wealth and intelligence officials implicated in torture. Egypt and Venezuela have more than 2,000 accounts each, while Ukraine and Thailand have more than 1,000 accounts each.

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The list includes several people from an intelligence background. The prominent people are Jordan’s Sa’ad Khair, Yemen’s Ghaleb Al-Qamish, Egypt’s Omar Suleiman, and Pakistan’s General Akhtar Abdur Rahman.

What makes these four people stand out from the over dozen intelligence officers on the list is that they controlled large unaccounted budgets. Also, their intelligence agencies were CIA partners in the intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

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What's the Pakistan connection?

General Akhtar was heading Pakistan’s spy agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and received massive funding from the CIA, which was then passed on to Afghan mujahedeen who were fighting Russia. U.S. funding for the group, which later transformed into the Taliban, is an open secret.

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So, is ISI’s support for the Taliban in their fight against U.S. forces. In 2021, the U.S. finally withdrew from Afghanistan. The withdrawal wasn’t executed well and was one of the main reasons President Joe Biden lost his popularity.

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General Akhtar was siphoning funds.

Allegedly, General Akhtar was siphoning off the funds meant for Afghan jihadists into the Swiss bank accounts jointly held by his sons. He died in a plane crash in 1988. Pakistan’s military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq also died in the same crash. General Akhtar’s sons have denied having Swiss bank accounts and said that the information isn't accurate.

What are the implications of the Credit Suisse data leak?

As expected, Credit Suisse has defended itself from the data leak. As reported by the BBC, Credit Suisse said, “The matters presented are predominantly historical, in some cases dating back as far as the 1940s, and the accounts of these matters are based on partial, inaccurate, or selective information taken out of context.”

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The data link brings the alleged complicity of Swiss banks in aiding global money laundering to the forefront. Some of the accounts mentioned in the data leaks were high-risk accounts of politically exposed people. They would have warranted extra scrutiny under prudent risk management norms.

However, as a former Credit Suisse employee told OCCRP, “The bank’s compliance departments [were] masters of plausible deniability.” The employee said that the culture at Credit Suisse was to “never write anything down that could expose an account that is non-compliant and never ask a question you do not want to know the answer to.”

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